Academia more liberal than in 2008, survey says

Robby Soave | Reporter

While it’s no secret that most college professors lean to the left, even more academics self-identity as “far left” or “liberal” today than did four years ago, a new survey found.

The survey, released by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, asked 23,000 faculty members at 400 different universities to answer a variety of questions, including one about their political leanings. Respondents could identify as either far left, liberal, middle of the road, conservative, or far right.

Some 12.4 percent of respondents chose far left. Another 50.3 percent identified as liberal. Just 11.5 and 0.4 percent of respondents indicated they were conservative or far right, respectively.

The far left and liberal categories each gained about 3 percentage points since the survey was last conducted in 2008. The number of faculty members who self-identified as middle of the road, conservative, or far right, decreased.

Kevin Eagen, assistant research director at the institute and a co-author of the study, downplayed these results and said the professors’ political leanings did not seem to impact those of the students.

“Studies that have come out from the institute that actually utilize this data and connect it with our student data show that the political ideology of faculty overall has no significant impact on students’ political ideology in college,” he said in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The political leanings of the faculty have no relevance.”

He also stressed the limited range of the possible answers on the political ideology question.

“We’re not asking about specific issues, which I think if we asked faculty about specific political issues, we could be a lot more nuanced here,” he said.

But Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, challenged the notion that an overwhelmingly liberal academy is nothing to fear.

“These are the places where the federal government sends money to do research on health issues, to develop strategies for national relations, to analyze social and economic challenges,” he said in an interview with TheDC News Foundation. “It’s a little puzzling how academics can insist it’s not a problem, when universities go to great lengths to tell us how much diversity matters.”

Since universities insist on the importance of maintaining racially diverse campuses, it’s incredible to think political diversity shouldn’t also be desirable, he said.

“It’s hard for me to imagine how you can argue that skin color matters but ideas don’t,” he said.

Though Hess agreed with the studies’ authors that the increased number of liberal respondents was a minor data point, the fact that the academy grew more liberal during the Barack Obama presidency was a symptom of “groupthink” on college campuses, he said.

“Universities are certainly complicit in the narrative that the big challenge of the Obama years has been the Republicans,” he said. “I would not be at all surprised if many new faculty or existing faculty during the Obama presidency have sat through four years of conversations about how Obama’s policies are the right ones, but those darn Republicans keep trying to get in his way.”

The survey’s release comes just two months after a major study by social psychologists Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammers revealed that many liberal academics would discriminate against conservative colleagues when considering grant proposals and job applications.

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